LOS ANGELES -- To get Rashad Greene to open up, ask him about getting open.
The most prolific receiver in Florida State history hates talking about himself. Any questions referring to Greene’s individual greatness will get spun into tributes to his teammates and coaches. Personal stuff? Sorry. That stays personal. But ask about route running, and Greene becomes downright loquacious.
The toughest route to master? For Greene, it was what Florida State coaches call an Ohio route. That’s a six-step out that must be run precisely every time. The receiver must wind up exactly where quarterback Jameis Winston expects to throw, and he must disguise his intention to cut until the moment he plants his foot and turns to the sideline. “It’s a speed cut,” Greene says. “So it’s a lot more difficult than most players think.” If the receiver tips off his cut, the cornerback can jump the route and grab the ball with an unimpeded path to the end zone. “If you drift,” Greene says, “it definitely can be dangerous.” Greene rarely drifts.
Ask Greene about the best route he ran all season, and his eyes twinkle. It came in the second quarter against Virginia with the Seminoles leading by one. It’s called a Shake route. The receiver pushes downfield before planting and angling toward the goal post. Then, just as quickly, he plants again and darts toward the corner of the end zone. What follows is a moving image that Cavaliers cornerback DreQuan Hoskey would probably rather have scrubbed from the Internet. Please accept our apologies in advance, DreQuan. This is going to hurt to watch.
“The defender was clueless by the time I caught the ball,” Greene says. “He just turned around and I was scoring a touchdown. That’s one of the routes that I can say definitely made somebody look bad.”
Greene has made defenders look hapless since he arrived at Florida State in 2011. Without much fanfare, he has led the Seminoles in receiving yardage in all four of his seasons in Tallahassee. He owns school records for receptions (264) and receiving yards (3,771) and is just two scores shy of Peter Warrick’s record for touchdown catches (31). Greene will try to break that final record during the inaugural College Football Playoff. He and the Seminoles will face Oregon on Thursday in the Rose Bowl, and the Ducks will try to cover Greene without All-America cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who tore his ACL earlier this month.
At 6-foot, 180 pounds, Greene doesn’t scare opponents getting off the bus the way 6-5, 240-pound former teammate Kelvin Benjamin did. He’s easy to underestimate until the first time he sticks a foot in the ground at the precise yardage he has practiced thousands of times. Other receivers might take five and three-quarters or six and a half steps before breaking on that Ohio route. Not Greene. He takes six. And when Winston throws, Greene is exactly where Winston expects him to be. “If I knew where everyone was when I was supposed to throw the ball, I probably wouldn't have 17 interceptions,” Winston says. “Rashad is just so tremendous.”
Greene is so physically unassuming he can even fly under the radar of opponents who know, based on his production, that they should be terrified of him. What Greene lacks in size he makes up for with his ability to run perfect routes with quick cuts that leave cornerbacks struggling to catch up. “A lot of times massive guys get by with jumping over people or not creating separation,” Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher says. “His preciseness, his quickness, his ability to explode out of cuts, you don’t realize how truly fast he is. He can run. I mean, he’s big-time fast on the top end.” What makes Greene so good is his ability to harness that speed without losing track of where he is within the route. “You put the clock on him and I mean he's flying. It’s just so smooth, but he’s always under control,” Fisher says. “I think the great wideouts I’ve been around are the guys that don’t look like they’re running sometimes -- and they’re never out of control in their routes.”
Greene credits Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter with emphasizing the importance of perfect routes. Like Greene, Carter’s son Duron played at St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Even after Duron left for college, the elder Carter worked with the team as a volunteer coach. He helped Greene understand speed or strength deficiencies could be overcome by quick, precise movements that allow the receiver and quarterback to take advantage of the fact that they know where the receiver is going and the defensive back does not. From Carter and then from Florida State receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey -- himself a former Seminoles star -- Greene learned the finer points of a skill for which the finer points matter most.
“You’ve got to have great hips,” Greene says. “You’ve got to be able to sink your hips and get in and out of cuts, and you’ve got to have a great head to sell routes. If you’re not selling the route with your head, it’s not going to get the DB’s attention to break on this step or another step. I would say it’s all in your hips and your head -- just learning how to control that speed, when to slow up, when to burst and things like that. It’s a combination of speed, speed control and hips and head.”
It bothers Winston and the rest of the Seminoles that Greene hasn’t gotten the attention other receivers have. Despite his consistent productivity, Greene was never a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, which happens to be sponsored by the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation. His name rarely pops up in televised discussions of the nation’s best receivers, and Greene’s teammates simply can’t understand. Doesn’t everyone else see what they see when they turn on the video of Florida State’s games? Doesn’t anyone remember last year’s BCS title game, when Greene caught a simple slant, split two Auburn defenders and turned it into a 49-yard gain that made the Winston-to-Benjamin game-winner possible? Has everyone forgotten the Post Corner Greene caught for a 74-yard touchdown on second-and-24 trailing by seven in the fourth quarter against Clemson this past September? “That Rashad doesn't get any attention? Oh, it tears me up,” Winston says. “If I didn't have that guy, I don't know where I'd be right now.”
Winston isn’t referring strictly to his passing stats. He remains grateful to Greene for the kindness Greene showed “after the Syracuse game last year.” That phrase is Winston’s euphemism for the period during which the Tallahassee state attorney’s office picked up an investigation into a rape accusation by a former Florida State student against Winston that Winston had thought was closed months earlier. The state attorney’s office filed no charges in the case, and earlier this month former Florida Supreme Court chief justice Major Harding ruled that Winston did not violate any part of Florida State’s code of student conduct. In the second half of November 2013, Winston spent several nights at Greene’s apartment. The case was national news, and the pressure was enormous. “He became my older brother,” Winston says. Greene wanted Winston to understand he had a support system even though his family was located hundreds of miles away in suburban Birmingham, Ala. “That was very important just to let him know that he has a family in Tallahassee,” Greene says.
Greene felt he needed to do that as a team leader. Besides, he knows he isn’t going to lead by giving any call-down-the-thunder speeches. That simply isn’t his style. “The way we lead this team is basically [Winston] gets the message across vocally, and I show them,” Greene says. “It’s like he's telling you what to do, and I’m showing you how to do it.” Greene’s ability to reproduce exactly what coaches want -- something he has done since his freshman year -- makes this particularly effective. “The same guy,” Dawsey says, shaking his head. “Consistent. I call him Mr. Consistent.” Greene is so consistent that players and coaches can abbreviate their explanations whether discussing an on- or off-field concept. Just say “like Rashad,” and the ‘Noles understand.
Greene hopes his record-breaking career will inspire some future Florida State player to push himself to run even more precise routes so he can smash Greene’s marks. But Greene isn’t worried about individual accolades or recognition. He knows what he has done: every Slant, Hitch, Ohio, Shake, Post, Post Corner and Dig. He doesn’t particularly care who else does. “I love the game,” Greene says. “I don't love the attention.”
• Peach Bowl: Ole Miss vs. TCU (in Atlanta): These two teams will enter next season with legitimate playoff aspirations, so a bump from a quality bowl win would be an added bonus for the victor. TCU coach Gary Patterson doesn’t care that the Horned Frogs have a chance to beat an SEC team. He cares that this game could be a valuable learning experience for a roster that could return as many as 16 starters. “The team, just because they play in a conference, doesn't make them a good football team. Ole Miss is a good football team, no matter what conference they played in,” Patterson said. “For me, this is about playing Ole Miss. It’s not about playing the SEC. So I play in the Big 12, but we're going to represent the Big 12 tomorrow, but it's not about Big 12. It's about TCU. TCU is trying to get to a point where we can play for a national championship and so tomorrow is one of those ball games where both of us are playing a very good football team.”
• Fiesta Bowl: Arizona vs. Boise State (in Glendale, Ariz.): One of the toughest things about predicting bowl games is determining which teams are motivated. Boise State players are probably thrilled to be in the Fiesta Bowl despite two early losses. Arizona is a little trickier. The last time the Wildcats took the field, Oregon blasted them in the Pac-12 title game. Are the Wildcats amped to get a shot to prove that game was an anomaly? Or do they remain disappointed? “I don't know if it’s redemption because that game was a different team, different environment,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Normally you say 24 hours, move on. I was mad for a couple weeks afterwards. I think the players responded a little easier. I think they were over it a couple days after. We talked about it, tried to correct our mistakes. [The title game] is so far removed now. It’s a whole different kind of deal with this. I think our guys, maybe it’s in the back of their mind. The last game we played, I don't want them thinking about it.”
• Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State in (Miami Gardens, Fla.): Bulldogs linebacker Benardrick McKinney said this week that he has never played a triple-option offense like Georgia Tech’s. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, they’ve had a while to prepare for the Yellow Jackets, who rank third nationally with 333.6 rushing yards a game. “We’ve had three weeks to practice this offense pretty hard,” McKinney said, “but we’ve been getting it.” The Bulldogs will play without defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, who left earlier this month for the same job at Florida. Cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend will call the plays in this one.
• Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin (in Tampa, Fla.): Tigers receiver Duke Williams will be back on the Plains in 2015, but he won’t ring in the New Year by playing football. Auburn’s leading receiver is suspended for the Outback Bowl because of a violation of team rules. Meanwhile, new Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst and new (old) Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp have spent the week getting to know their new teams. Neither has been coaching, but both have used the week to evaluate their new personnel.
• Cotton Bowl: Baylor vs. Michigan State (in Arlington, Texas): This will be the final game for Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi before he takes over at Pitt, and the Spartan Dawgs will face one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. That offense was designed by Bears coach Art Briles, who was asked on Tuesday whether he’s tired of Texas hogging all the Lone Star State headlines. He responded hilariously. “Maybe your perception of what’s happening in Texas is not the same as what’s in the state of Texas,” Briles said. “You know, in the state of Texas, we kind of deal in reality. And the reality is the last two or three years, we have been the dominant program in the state. When we sneeze, there are people saying ‘gesundheit’ to us and we say ‘thank you.’”
• Citrus Bowl: Minnesota vs. Missouri (in Orlando, Fla.): After rebuilding the Golden Gophers following the disaster that was the Tim Brewster era, Jerry Kill seemed a likely candidate for some higher-profile coaching jobs. That wasn’t lost on his players. “He’s a great coach, and seeing what he’s done with this program so far, I’m surprised more programs aren’t trying to get him,” quarterback Mitch Leidner told The Pioneer-Press recently. “It’s awesome that he's loyal to us because we’re loyal to him as players. All the things he does for us, we just want to play hard and work hard for him.” Kill and Minnesota will try to break the nine-win mark for the first time since Glen Mason’s team went 10-3 in 2003. They’ll have to do it against the two-time SEC East champs. Missouri’s defense will have plenty of motivation, too. The Tigers want to send longtime coordinator Dave Steckel off with a win. After this game, Steckel will take over as the head coach at Missouri State.
• Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State (in New Orleans): Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones might have been as surprised as everyone else at how well he played in the Big Ten title game. “Yeah, a little shocked,” Jones said on Tuesday. “But our coaches did an unbelievable job in preparing me and my teammates to play on that stage. It was the biggest game of the season, and we were down to our third quarterback. So all that credit goes to the coaches and the guys around me.” Jones deserves plenty of credit himself, but now he has to do it again against a defense that feasts on the mistakes of rattled quarterbacks. Bama, meanwhile, will have to design a defensive game plan with only a limited amount of tape on Jones. But Crimson Tide defenders seem confident that Jones won’t run as much as Braxton Miller or J.T. Barrett would. “He’s a passing quarterback,” Alabama safety Landon Collins said. “So we know that we are probably going to stick with more passing than runs from him. So we'll just sit back and see what happens.”
Vintage video of the week
Curious as to how Barry Alvarez will handle having control of an elite back once again in the Outback Bowl against Auburn? Just watch Ron Dayne scoring against UCLA in the 1999 Rose Bowl and picture Melvin Gordon carrying the ball.
On the menu
If you’re in the Los Angeles area for the Rose Bowl, have a 16-ounce bone-in ribeye with sweet bourbon sauce at Fonz’s in Manhattan Beach. Ditch the creamed spinach in favor of jalapeno mac and cheese, and get the toffee bar a la mode for dessert. If you’re in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, go to Cochon Butcher for a pork belly sandwich. Finish it off with a peanut butter and jelly cookie.